Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, September 14, 1889

     7.50 P.M. I went to W.'s and sat with him some time alone, talking. By and by Harned came in, bringing Morehouse, the Unitarian preacher, with him. Though W. expressed himself as having had "a poorly day," he entered quite animatedly into the talk, and surely displayed a vigor that surpassed our own. At some mention of the Pope's official denunciation of Bruno, W. exclaimed: "Science is not in this age to be submissively slapped in the face. Nothing is so dear to the heart of science as the fact, sense, of its freedom. Bruno is the love of every discoverer. It was with him as it was with Galileo. They are no more to be extirpated by a papal bull than is a comet. Especially here in America do we resent such interference. Yet I am free to say, I glory in all that transpires—glory in this—glory that they seek to vaunt themselves as they do—for it gives us a chance to show them where we stand—show them who can strike the hardest blow. My surprise is, not that they feel it or say it among themselves, but that they are damned fools enough to rush into print with such gammon."

     Harned mischievously questioned W.: "Are you not the friend of Unitarians, Walt?" For the instant W. misunderstood him—supposed he asked, "Are you Unitarian?" "No—Tom—I don't know why I should ask or accept the name." But when T. explained, added: "O yes, that—why not? I am the friend of all. It was the Hegelian idea, principle, that all are needed—that all are part of the whole—and so I should insist, all belong in their places—none can be dismissed—Catholic, Quaker, Mormon, Freethinker—even the Unitarian! I cannot be this or that, but I can recognize this or that. I know of no school in this, our day,—not Gladstone's, Henry George's, any other—who offers anything adequate—anything

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that would land us at the goal, any more than the present system. We old fogies, in the absence of fire, health, solace ourselves with clinging to what is—with not making ventures any longer. Yet I like the sects—I feel of them as a doctor [does] of pimples on the face—it is better for them to come out than to be hidden underneath the exterior—a hundred percent better. Pimples are a thing we can fight, but insidious hidden processes defy battle."
And again: "A great city—London, for instance—would typify our present condition—the prevailing tone, what-not—of our civilization—the religious aspect: London is not made up of one man but of several millions of men—so our universe—so religions. Some people see a decadence in the present troubles—what I call our intestinal troubles but then we do not—do not believe in decadence. It was Mrs. Gilchrist's favorite expression—when she looked out on this surging seething man—that we were all going somewhere—not only that, but somewhere good. And I believe it." "It is true there is plenty of bad in the human critter—we all agree to it—he is a bad lot, as Tennyson's farmer puts it—but that is not the whole of him: he is not all or only what Carlyle paints of him." Harned quoted Emerson, to the effect that to find a man trustworthy, you must trust him. W. said fervently: "That's it—that's the whole story. It's the story over again of my woman friend in Washington who complained that whereas her sister, who distrusted nobody, had no locks and keys for drawers, no mysteries, no securities, was never robbed, she, who was so careful, padlocked and keyed everything, was careful of all her goings and comings, was continually losing,—being robbed, taken advantage of." Again: "After all, I wish well to all reformers. And besides, there's no danger of a dearth of them in our age—our age, on the contrary is full of Henry Georges, temperance, other reformers—all with panaceas. And for an old fogy like me to doubt a little can do no harm. There is an embarrassment of riches in reform."

     W. spoke of Arnold's visit and added: "Why, Tom—Jim

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Scovel was in today—with him another reporter—a Press man. I did not think much of this press man. Generally, I like these fellows, but this time is an exception. Yet he was a handsome sort of fellow—straight, well-dressed, used to moving in conventional society—evidently had been about in the world. I never knew Jim to look so well—he tells me he is now writing, altogether—probably for some of the big New York papers,—and well-paid. He said he was under instructions to find out all he could about Edwin Arnold's—I suppose it is Sir Edwin Arnold's—visit to America. I told him Arnold had been here—how fresh, hearty, tanned,—how English he was. Arnold is a great globe-trotter—seems to be moving about and about. My main objection to him, if objection at all, would be, that he is too eulogistic—too flattering. He was very frank in his expression of his own view with respect to Leaves of Grass—of his decided friendliness—of his particular friends' friendliness over there. Indeed, though not saying so directly, he did speak indirectly as if one of his purposes in coming was to boom me—to give me unmistakable evidence how he stood—and I think he did. He is a comfortable looking man—a man of the sort I should like occasionally for a neighbor. He brought me a message from his daughter—she did not come, but wished to be remembered. I had an inclination to open up the theme—the tremendous theme—of Hindu poetry,—scriptures—Buddhism—but did not—thought it inadvisable then—and so not a word was said of that on either side. Ah Tom! it does one good to have even Jim come in—he is so cheery, chirpy!"

     I had received a note from Symonds today, and before the others came in had started to read it to W. It was this:

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Am Hof
Davos Platz
Switzerland
Sept. 3, 1889

Dear Sir

Owing to circumstances connected with the fact that I inhabit one house at Venice in the spring & another here at Davos in the summer, your letter of May 24 has only just reached me—too late, I very much fear, to be of any use.

Never the less, I enclose what may be styled an expression of my [creed] with regard to that noble (& here is rightly named,) grand old man.

Whether it would in any way have suited the scheme of the pamphlet which you wrote me was to appear after the celebration of May 31, I do not know.

But it has at least the merit of sincerity & of careful consideration. I took thought before I set on paper what will perhaps to many persons who have read my books, appear an exaggerated expression of my intellectual and moral obligations to Walt Whitman.

Will you, if you are in personal relations with him, convey him my hearty though belated congratulations? And pray believe me to be cordially & in all good comradeship yours

John Addington Symonds—

P.S. I cannot read your signature distinctly. Therefore, in order to avoid miscarriage, I have cut it from the foot of your letter & pasted it upon the envelope of this.


Enclosed was the piece which I shall use in the book. In the midst of my reading, others entering, W. suggested I begin over again, which I did. All were highly gratified, though W. himself said little concerning it except that "it ought certainly go in the book."

     Tom invited him around to dinner tomorrow. He would not promise that but said: "I'll come if the spirit is on" and at

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Tom's mention of wine— "Oh yes! the wine certainly—that is always a necessary part of the coming!" Had sent Harned some clippings and so forth. "I'm glad you cared for them, Tom—I thought you would like certainly to keep that address—and while I was in the way I sent other things." Interrupted himself in the midst of his talk on evolution, etc. "But I must not expatiate any longer on that theme. Take what I have said for the last 15 minutes and apply it for yourselves: man goes on and on talking with less and less sense, sometimes."


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